Blog of Rights

Ballot High Across the Country

By Sondra Goldschein, ACLU at 10:34pm

I am on a ballot initiative-induced high and it’s not just because marijuana legalization measures passed in Colorado and Washington. I’m giddy because last night, in ballot initiative contests across the country, we heard directly from voters about our civil liberties. They spoke loud and clear. They want them protected, defended and expanded. 

All across the country, we celebrated. On so many different issues, we were victorious.

  • Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington approved the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Voters in Minnesota rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have excluded gay couples from marriage. It truly is a marriage moment.

  • Minnesotans stepped up to protect the fundamental right to vote by rejecting an amendment requiring photo ID at the polls.  This costly measure would have disenfranchised thousands of eligible Minnesota voters, especially senior citizens, students, and those serving in our armed forces.

  • In Florida, voters sent a strong message to their state legislature that they don't want politicians interfering in a woman's personal, private medical decisions.  Voters also rejected public funding of religion and affirmed the separation of church and state safeguards that have protected the rights of all Floridians for over a hundred years.

  • Voters in Maryland stood up for fundamental fairness and equality, enabling certain undocumented immigrant students who attended high school in Maryland to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. 

  • In Massachusetts, voters chose to legalize the humanitarian use of medical marijuana, and voters in Colorado and Washington took a stand for sensible drug law reform by choosing to legalize small quantities of marijuana for adults.

  • California voters reformed the “Three Strikes” law to help reduce inappropriate and excessive punishments and overincarceration. 

  • New Mexico voters approved a state constitutional amendment to add even greater protections to ensure the right to counsel.

There were disappointments, too. In California, a measure to replace the death penalty with life without parole was defeated in a close vote.  Voters passed anti-abortion and anti-immigrant measures in MontanaOklahomans eliminated an important strategy for ensuring opportunity and diversity in America by prohibiting the use of affirmative action. Voters in Oregon did not pass a law to legalize marijuana. But overall, we have many more civil liberties victories than losses to celebrate this election year. This will be a year to remember.

You may think that’s it until the next Election Day, but not so fast. State legislators across the country will debate many of these same issues – like immigration, abortion, marriage, and criminal justice reform – next year during the state legislative sessions.

And when they do, make sure that you keep up with what’s happening. Let your representatives know what you value in your community, and hold them accountable for their votes. The more we get involved in our legislative process, the more we’ll have to celebrate in the years to come. Election Day is only the beginning. 

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